At First Sight by Nicholas Sparks

At First Sight is the continuing story of Jeremy Marsh and Lexie Darnell. After falling head over heels for Lexie, Jeremy finds himself doing something he never thought he would - leaving New York City to move to Boone Creek, North Carolina. In the span of a few months, his life has changed dramatically - he's moved to a small town, is getting married, buying a house, and is soon to be a father, something he never dreamed possible.

Life is not the complete fairy tale he had hoped for, however. Jeremy struggles to adjust to small town life and finds himself experiencing a severe case of writer's block, which is made worse by his constant worry about supporting his new family and paying for the renovations to their new home. While he loves Lexie with all his heart, the couple hits a few bumps as they continue to get to know each other. When Jeremy starts receiving mysterious emails questioning how well he knows Lexie, his world is thrown into further upheaval as he tries to figure it all out.

At first sight is an emotional rollercoaster  filled with love, doubt, fear, heartbreak, tragedy, and joy. If you pick this book up, I suggest you have a box of tissues as well, because I often found myself tearing up, especially towards the end of the book. I enjoyed reading this continuation of True Believer. Once again, the "mystery" that spring up in the form of emails lacked some of the intrigue I would have liked and resolved itself a little too neatly. It almost seemed unnecessary for me considering of the other problems and issues that had already arisen between Jeremy and Lexie as they began to build their lives together. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that I had hoped for a  more complete happy ending for Jeremy and Lexie. At First Sight is another NSparks classic.


True Believer by Nicholas Sparks

True Believer tells the story of Jeremy Marsh and Lexie Darnell. Jeremy is the embodiment of a city boy. Born and raised in New York City, he couldn't imagine why anyone would want to live anywhere else. He is a journalist who specializes in debunking the supernatural. His career is just taking off after an appearance on television, when he receives a letter from Boone Creek, North Carolina, describing some mysterious lights. His curiosity is peeked and he heads to Boone Creek which is "right between the middle of nowhere and where are we exactly?" to investigate.

While in Boone Creek Jeremy meets Lexie, the town's librarian, and she is unlike any woman he has ever met. She is not afraid to speak her mind and speaks with an unfailing honesty. At first, Lexie does not trust Jeremy and worries how Jeremy will depict her home and the people in it. Lexie grew up and Boone Creek, and while she lived briefly elsewhere, she cannot imagine making her home anywhere else. However, she finds herself drawn to Jeremy and begins to realize that he too is different from anyone she has ever known.  

While trying to solve the mystery of the lights, Jeremy and Lexie are increasingly drawn together. However, both struggle to overcome the wounds of past relationships and the obstacles of their current realities. To truly be together, one of them will have to compromise and take a giant leap of faith.

I really enjoyed this book, although I had to quite the skeptic in me. Jeremy and Lexie seem to fall in love very quickly - over the span of 2 days actually. While I'm not saying that this can't happen, as someone who has never experienced it, I'm not a "true believer" on that front. I was also a little disappointed by the lights mystery. I was hoping for a little more intrigue here, but was disappointed. Although that is what initially brings Jeremy to Boone Creek, the mystery definitely takes a backseat to Jeremy and Lexie's budding romance and it is wrapped up fairly quickly. I guess I would have like to have seen that developed more. It would have add a little more mystery to the story.

This is one of the few NSparks books that has a squeal, which is called At First Sight. I'm curious to see where he takes this story, so I'm picking up At First Sight next!


The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

The Best of Me tells the story of Dawson Cole and Amanda Collier. Dawson is from the wrong side of the tracks - his family is notorious in their small town of Oriental for boozing, crime, and generally being up to no good. He is quiet and does his best to be invisible and avoid the trouble caused by his family. Amanda comes from a wealthy, well-respected family. She is popular and beautiful, and could have anyone she wanted. During their senior year of high school, Dawson and Amanda fall in love - a deep, true love that changes their lives forever. However, the realities of life and circumstances beyond their control drive them apart and they are forced to end their relationship.

Flash forward 25 years and Dawson and Amanda find themselves back together in Oriental to attend the funeral of their mutual friend, Tuck. Dawson has spent the last 25 years trying to overcome his past while working on an oil rig. He lives a solitary life and has ever stopped thinking about or loving Amanda. Amanda is married and has 4 children. The past 25 years have been filled with immeasurable joy, pain, and heartbreak for her. She has lost a child and is living in an unhappy marriage. She also has never forgotten Dawson.

Dawson and Amanda are drawn back together, but once again life and circumstance threaten to pull them apart. Over the course of a weekend they are forced to confront the past, make tough decisions, and face the uncertainty of the future. One thing they know for certain - their love is a once in a lifetime love, a true love that will endure forever. But is it enough to overcome all the obstacles in their way?

I liked this NSparks book, but I didn't love it. I liked how Sparks weaved together all of the story lines of the different characters. This book as a little predictable for me. I could see where the story was going almost at every turn. The characters kept me interested in the story, but I have a feeling that if they had been less interesting or if their stories had been less artfully woven together, I would have lost interest in the story about half way through. I like a little mystery in my books. I like to be surprised by the direction an author takes with a story. There was no surprise for me in this one. There was still enough romance to keep a hopeless romantic like me interested enough to finish it, and if you are an NSparks fan, you will enjoy it. 


The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks

The Lucky One is a re-read for me. I'm a huge fan of Nicholas Sparks and his swoon worthy romances :) I first read The Lucky One a few years ago and loved it. In fact, it's one of my favorite NSparks (my nickname for his books) books.

The Lucky One is about Logan Thibault, a U.S. Marine who finds a photograph of a woman during his 3rd tour of Iraq. After finding the photo, Logan survives several close calls and his best friend, Victor, attributes his good fortune to the photograph. After returning to the U.S., Logan finds himself unable to forget about the woman in the photo. He sets off, with his faithful companion Zeus, on a cross-country journey to find the woman in the photo. What he ends up finding is much more than what he expects. He finds his destiny.

I decided to re-read The Lucky One after recently seeing the movie. It had been a few years since I had read the book, and while I remembered the story, I had forgotten some of the finer details. Since I loved it the first time, I figured why not pick it up again? The book was much better than the movie, but that always seems to be the case. However, I was not completely disappointed by the movie. It stayed fairly true to the book with only minor additions and subtractions. Zac Efron was not the Logan I pictured in my head, but I thought he did a good job portraying the character. He's certainly come a long way from High School Musical!

I enjoyed reading The Lucky One for the second time just as much as the first time. Nicholas Sparks is a truly remarkable storyteller. His style is simple and uncomplicated, but he creates characters that are easy to relate to and who you truly come to care for. His leading men are swoon worthy and appeal tremendously to a hopeless romantic such as myself, without being too sappy. I recommend the movie if you enjoy chick flicks and highly recommend the book!


Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God was written by Zora Neale Hurston in 1937 and although it did not receive wide acclaim at the time, it is now considered by many to be a quintessential example of 20th Century American African American literature.

The book is about Janie, a young African American woman and her journey through poverty, marriage, and trials to find herself. The book definitely has some feminist connotations to it. Janie is a fiercely independent woman, who refuses to settle for the life others have given her or think that she should have. It is her experiences in life and in love that bring an increasing sense of self-awareness to Janie. I love the character of Janie. She wasn't willing to settle when she was expected to, and in the end she was determined to be herself and live her life, regardless of what others thought or said. I respected that about her.

The language of the book takes some getting used to. It is written using the Southern vernacular, which can be tricky at first. However once I got into the story and pick up the rhythm of the language I hardly noticed it. The language is almost like another character in the book. It transports you into this world and is essential to the greatness of this story. I'm glad I picked this book up. I recommend that you give it a chance. 


Fifty Shades Trilogy by E.L. James

The Fifty Shades Trilogy is - to borrow a phrase from the books - "Fifty Shades of Fuckedupness!" I'm almost ashamed to admit that I loved every minute...almost ;) The truth is that once I started, I couldn't stop! In fact, this series has spawned a new label for my blog - Guilty Pleasure. You know those books that are nowhere near literary genius, but you love them anyway? The ones that you want to tell everyone to read, but feel slightly embarrassed about admitting to not only reading them, but loving them? These books fall into that category for me. I couldn't stop reading and when I got to the end, I wanted to go back to the beginning and start all over again! If you are looking for a literary masterpiece, don't pick these books up - you will be greatly disappointed. E.L. James' writing often leaves something to be desired in terms of style, but for me it didn't make the story any less addicting. Hence the 5 star rating. I don't think that she set out to be a "writer" when she sat down to write these books. I've seen a few interviews with the author and I appreciate that she herself admits that she did not set out to write a literary masterpiece. She just had a story to tell.

Fifty Shades is billed as Twilight fan fiction and anyone who is a Twilight fan will certainly see the parallels. The story takes place in Washington. Ana is clumsy, has self image issues, is a big fan of classic literature, and prior to meeting Christian has little to no experience with men. Sound familiar? There is even the male best friend - Jose - who harbors less than platonic feelings for our heroine. I'm just glad that doesn't go anywhere - I would not have been happy about having to suffer through a New Moon style love triangle (sorry to my Team Jacob fans). Christian is a much darker form of Edward. He's a god physically, he plays the piano, is completely self-deprecating, is an obsessive control freak, and in the end utterly changed by love. Those expecting the chaste love of Twilight should be warned - whereas Stephenie Meyers faded to black when the passion heated up, E.L. James leaves absolutely nothing (and I mean NOTHING) to the imagination. At times I found myself totally blushing and got that feeling you get when you know you're doing something wrong, but just can't stop, and you're praying that on one catches you...

I loved the characters. Ana is far less whiny than Bella (not that I don't still love her) and I can see she and I getting along way better than I would with Bella. Ana, while equally obsessed with Christian, still has a desire to be her own person and exerts her free will, much the chagrin of Christian. Christian was by far my favorite character and is a rather complex one, in my opinion. For me it was less about his physical beauty (although I enjoyed that as well) and more about his issues. I truly felt for this character - he is completely "Fifty Shades," but it is not hard to understand why as you learn about his childhood experiences. He is very much a product of his environment - it was heartbreaking to read. Despite all of his flaws (and there are many), he did have some redeeming qualities. He could be generous, selfless, and good. He just couldn't see that in himself or accept anything but the negative. My female desire to swoop in and "fix" him was definitely in hyperdrive reading these books.

It's funny when I read how some people are mystified by these books' success. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to get it. Anyone with any insight into the female psyche can figure it out. There are so many elements of the female fantasy to be found in this book. First, you have the incredibly hot, rich as hell, powerful male who wants nothing more than to give you everything your heart desires and take care of your every need. Who wouldn't want that? Females have been pegged as the caregivers from the dawn of time. We are genetically programmed to put the needs and wants of others before our own, often at our own expense, and what's more, society expects us to be happy about it. When we fail to live up to this standard, we either beat ourselves up and feel incredibly guilty about it, or society places all sorts of pressure on us to. Is it any wonder that we are drawn to the fantasy of having someone else take care of us for a change?

Then there is the whole bad boy thing. Christian is a broken, deeply wounded human being and there is nothing we girls love more than a fix-me-up project. It's Beauty and the Beast, Dirty Dancing, etc. all over again. We want to believe that love, our love, is transformative. That it can take a man who is screwed up and fix him, make him not only be a better man, but want to be better. It's second nature to us. Fifty Shades combines the two - Christian takes care of Ana, and she transforms him with love. Sigh...

The series has been deeply criticized for being nothing more than salacious porn - and it TOTALLY is - but I find it interesting that any book or movie that deals with female sexuality quickly gets dismissed as frivolous and ridiculous. Not that I ever really expected these books to be taken seriously, but I do think it speaks to society's opinion concern sexuality and desire for women. Let's face it...not all female desires are chaste and pure, but that is what is expected of us. Anything else gets dismissed or a raised eyebrow. These books are beyond salacious and I love them!